The Argentine defender has been a big hit at the Estadio da Luz, and he must now demonstrate against Zenit that Jose Mourinho made a mistake selling him
By Luis Mira | Portuguese Football Editor
It was with a mixture of sadness and relief that Benfica's fans waved goodbye to David Luiz on the last day of the 2010-11 winter transfer window when the defender joined Chelsea in a €25 million deal. If at first his aggressive, never-say-die attitude had made him a fans' favourite at the Estadio da Luz, those very same characteristics saw him become a liability to the team's backline towards the last months of his Benfica spell.
After the Brazilian stopper put in a series of disappointing displays, his commitment started to be questioned, so it was with little surprise that Benfica decided to off-load him when a good offer came along.
However, Luiz's exit created a void in the team that no one could fill, not even replacement Jardel. The 25-year-old, signed in January 2011 from Olhanense for €500,000, formed the new defensive pairing with Luisao, but the change brought even more havoc to Benfica's defence, as the club finished 21 points adrift of Porto in the Portuguese Liga.
|THE ARGENTINE ROCK
| JESUS' RECORD WITH LUIZ (2010-11)
AV. GOALS CONCEDED PER GAME
|JESUS' RECORD WITH GARAY (2011-12)|
AV. GOALS CONCEDED PER GAME
And just six months into his journey at Benfica, Garay has established himself as a key member of the squad and one of the top defenders in the Portuguese Liga, which earned him a place in Goal.com's Team of the Season (for the first half of the campaign) for both Portugal and Europe.
The differences between Luiz and Garay are plain to see: the Brazilian is much more technical - able to play at left-back and defensive midfield - but his surges forward can leave his team exposed at the back. He is also very aggressive on the pitch and takes his challenges to the limit, which often sees him go into the referees' book.
Garay, on the other hand, keeps a low profile on the pitch, only rushing forward in set-piece situations. The Argentine defender has shown great positioning, composure and concentration, and he is very rarely caught daydreaming. This drastically reduces the need for late challenges, which helps to explain why he has only been booked four times so far this season.
When comparing Benfica's record in the first half of 2010-11 (until January 31, the day Luiz signed for Chelsea), with the same period of the current season, the differences are significant: with Garay, Benfica conceded on average 0.25 goals fewer per game and posted a slightly higher winning percentage. The Argentina international was also shown less than half as many yellow cards as the Brazilian defender, while also scoring two goals.
|"David Luiz played like a man being controlled by a 10-year-old in the crowd on a PlayStation"
- Gary Neville
To his fanbase, David Luiz's exit seemed to be an irreparable loss for Benfica, but it ended up being a blessing in disguise, albeit having arrived six months late. The criticism that the Brazilian has received in England - including a scathing review from former Manchester United defender Gary Neville, who described him as "a man being controlled by a 10-year-old in the crowd on a PlayStation" - shows that he desperately needs to reflect on his suicidal, gung-ho style.
After a frustrating spell at Madrid, Garay is making the most of his time at the Estadio da Luz, and he could well end up at one of Europe's giants again if he is able to maintain the same level of form. He has proven to be a much more successful option than Luiz at centre-back, and the Champions League tie against Zenit St Petersburg will provide him with the opportunity to demonstrate that Jose Mourinho was wrong to let him leave the Bernabeu in a cut-price deal.
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